When Iron Lungs Were Added

Long before COVID crashed out shores, our fire departments and rescue squads assisted with another national health crisis. During the polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 1950s, they added iron lungs to their emergency equipment. Here’s the Durham Fire Department receiving one, as photographed by Charles Cooper for the Durham Morning Herald and/or Sun on March 30, 1948. Citation below.

Charlotte’s rescue squad had three iron lungs and a trailer in 1953. The Charlotte FD their 1953 annual report listed an “iron lung trailer” along with two adult and one baby models on the equipment roster of the “rescue and first aid squad.” They performed 45 local iron lung transports that year, and 25 out-of-town transports. (They also had 18 operating room stand-by calls [!] during tracheotomies of polio patients.)

The Greensboro Fire Department rescue squad had one by 1945, donated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Noted one newspaper account, it was “light enough to be taken to the scene.” Below is a newspaper article from 1950, noting that both GFD and the Greensboro Life Saving and First Aid Crew had one.

Greenville’s Rescue Squad had a portable iron lung by 1959, as the below Rocky Mount Telegram story notes. And the only one in eastern North Carolina.

Believe the Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad also had an iron during its early years of operation in the early 1950s. Can’t put my hands on the citation at the moment, however.

Photo citation: P0105-01-01-07-085 in the Durham Herald Company Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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  1. My mom was in an iron for one and a half years back in the 50’s. She contracted polio 6 months before the cure. She is my herro. She never complained

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